Frozen assets: ‘My plan was to have mostly cleared the plot by now…’

The pond ice was an inch thick, so Allan Jenkins broke through with a heavy hoe and launched Operation Free the Frogs

Perhaps it is time I learned patience. First surgery, then snow, now pretty constant rain. The sacks of manure, split in the frost, still wait sullenly. The last shards of last year’s growth stand stark against the ground.

The hungry pigeons have stripped the kale and chard, as I hadn’t the heart to deny them. The chicory, too, is finally defeated, though I love the flowers where they have turned to seed. A lone treviso stubbornly clings on, a small hedge of puntarelle tires in the top corner. This is the last thing the pigeons will eat. It must be too bitter for them.

The sunflower skeletons stand tall like a petrified wood, a charcoal sketch against the winter sky. My plan was to have mostly cleared the plot by now, leaving just the new broad beans, the garlic and shallots, whichever chard had best survived. As I walk to the plot with nasturtium seed in my bag, I can almost feel its itch.

Instead I stand, walk slowly around, admire the snowdrops and break the ice. The ponds froze for a while, night after night. Lene, Howard and I would take it in turns to break through.

The site is in a hollow, high on Hampstead hill, sheltered by a ring of tall trees. The snow stays. The pond ice was an inch thick in early February, so we launched Operation Free the Frogs, breaking through with a heavy hoe, unleashing swampy methane.

I know many gardeners no longer like to dig and in truth I don’t trench like the allotment old boys. But there is something special for me in turning soil, a silent conversation. For now, though, I am learning to wait and watch over, leave the plot to the fox and the birds, try not to interfere; to love its quiet and appreciate the late winter light.